Israeli film producer and businessman Arnon Milchan, who lives in Los Angeles, confirmed on Monday at the Old Ship Hotel hall in Brighton, England, that he bought gifts, including champagne bottles, cigars and a necklace, for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, but he claimed not knowing that this was legally problematic and not receiving favors in return. 

The Israeli Embassy in London rented the hotel hall for Milchan's testimony, which started over the weekend and is expected to continue through Tuesday. 

Milchan also admitted he sought Netanyahu’s assistance in renewing his American visa in 2014, but he added that at the time he was extremely stressed over the matter and spoke openly about his problem with practically each Israeli or American official he met, including former Secretary of State John Kerry who told him he was unable to help him because visas are homeland security issues. 

Milchan testified at the graft trial of Netanyahu at the request of Israel’s prosecution. During his testimony, Milchan explained that he maintained especially friendly relations with Netanyahu, though these soured with the investigation that was opened against the premier. Milchan testified remotely on Monday for the second day in a row, after the Jerusalem District Court accepted his request not to travel to Israel for the trial. Initially, after accepting his request to testify remotely, Milchan was set to testify from the Israeli Embassy in London, but the testimony was relocated to Brighton for security reasons.

Sara Netanyahu in Brighton, keeping a watchful eye …

The Jerusalem District Court authorized the wife of the prime minister to sit in on the testimony of Milchan in Brighton on behalf of her husband. According to Ynet, Netanyahu himself watched Milchan’s testimony on a screen at the Jerusalem courthouse. It was a rare appearance of Netanyahu at the building, absent from most of the trial against him, ongoing since May 2020. 

Netanyahu, indicted in November 2019, is charged over three files: the 1,000 file, where he allegedly received benefits and gifts from Milchan and Australian millionaire James Parker; the 2,000 file, concerning the relationship between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, allegedly plotting a deal for positive coverage for Netanyahu; and the 4,000 file, where Netanyahu allegedly intervened in regulatory decisions to benefit then-Bezeq communication holder Shaul Alovitch. 

The police named the files involving Netanyahu by order of the investigation. It also opened a file named 3,000, investigating suspicions of bribery related to the purchase by the Israeli military of German submarines. Netanyahu was questioned on that file as well, but it was decided not to charge him with anything in this case. 

His wife has not been charged in any of the files but was questioned by police about whether she received gifts from Milchan or Parker. Milchan’s personal assistant, Hadas Klein, testified that the Netanyahu couple had demanded on several occasions to be supplied with cigars and champagne and that Mrs. Netanyahu had demanded that Milchan buy her jewelry for her birthday.

Bribe or no bride

In the 1,000 and 2,000 files, Netanyahu is indicted on fraud and breach of trust. In the 4,000 file, Netanyahu is indicted on fraud, breach of trust and bribe. The bribe offense is crucial for Netanyahu’s political future, as people convicted of bribe are banned from serving as ministers. According to a report by Walla last Thursday, the judges presiding over the premier’s trial told prosecutors in the case that the bribery charge against Netanyahu will be difficult to prove.

The trial has further polarized Israeli society between those believing the prime minister is corrupt and those believing Netanyahu is innocent and being persecuted by the legal system and the political left. Since the beginning of the trial, Netanyahu has claimed his innocence. Several right-wing politicians and activists have been calling for the state to offer him a plea bargain, a proposal Netanyahu himself had rejected. After the leak last week of the meeting between the judges and prosecutors, voices called on Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to enter into plea bargain discussions, an option she flatly rejected.

What’s next?

Netanyahu’s legal defense team on Monday rejected a request by the prosecution to add more court hearings so as to accelerate the trial. The prosecution claimed it is in the public’s interest for the trial to be concluded as quickly as possible. The defense lawyers said they have personal and professional obligations and cannot assist with any court hearings during the summer vacation. 

The trial, which started in May 2020, could still last for several months. And even if convicted, Netanyahu could appeal, prolonging procedures by many more months and perhaps even years. According to Ynet, the meeting between the judges and the prosecutors last week was not the first of its kind. The report said that at least on one occasion, the judges proposed to the prosecution, in the presence of the defense, to consider mediation. So far, these efforts for mediation and a possible plea bargain have not borne fruit. 

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